A local businessman, devoted to using his time and wealth to enhance the Greater Boston Jewish Community, is making a $5 million gift to Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead. As part of the gift, and with the support of the family of Eli and Bessie Cohen, CHA will be renamed the Arthur J. Epstein School.
Epstein explains that this is not the end of the school’s fundraising, it’s the beginning. “They need 10 million, five of it’s from me. They’ll raise the rest of the money.”
This is not Epstein’s first donation to the school, just his biggest – prior gifts have been focused on the school’s Learning Center, Annual Fund and tuition assistance program, among others.
“I think that every Jewish child who wants a Jewish education has the right to have it,” explained Epstein. “And that’s the reason I’m giving this money. The other reason is that I’m really impressed with (Head of School) Amy Gold. Amy’s doing a great job.”
A permanent tribute to the Cohen family will be installed at the Epstein School to honor their legacy, and the school will establish a scholarship fund to provide financial assistance for a student to attend one of the Cohen Foundation camps.
In recent years, Epstein has focused much of his attention on philanthropy. “I’ve tried to make a difference with the time I have on earth,” said Epstein. When he was younger, Epstein recalls feeling the need to impress other people with possessions, but not any longer. “I’ve had all the big cars, the Mercedes’ and everything. Now everyone teases me, I’m driving a Hyundai Genesis. They all tease me, but it’s a fine car. I don’t need a Mercedes.”
Now what makes him happy is helping to make other people happy. “I went to temple a couple of years ago for the High Holidays and some little boy – he was 10 or 11 years old – he says to me, ‘I want to thank you for what you do for the school.’ That’s worth everything. To me it is anyway.”
Widely recognized as an engaged and dedicated volunteer, Epstein is a supporter of numerous nonprofit organizations including Boston Children’s Hospital, The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, Massachusetts General Hospital, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, WGBH, North Shore Medical Center/Salem Hospital and Congregation Shirat Hayam.
According to Cohen Hillel’s Head of School, Amy Gold, Epstein’s most recent gift enables the school to maintain a high quality education grounded in Jewish values as it grows enrollment. “This significant contribution to Cohen Hillel Academy demonstrates Arthur’s belief in and commitment to maintaining an independent Jewish school for generations to come. We are extraordinarily grateful.”
Epstein’s connection to Cohen Hillel Academy began long before he set foot in the school. More than thirty years ago, Epstein met Bennett Solomon, a Brandeis graduate student, who was leading a community trip to Israel. “I was impressed by Bennett’s character and his aspirations. He understood the benefits and blessings of merging secular and Jewish education in a stimulating environment where children could learn, grow and thrive,” said Epstein. Their friendship deepened when Solomon became the school’s principal in 1979.
Inspired by the school’s mission, vision and priorities, and to honor Solomon’s memory, Epstein has consistently supported Cohen Hillel Academy. “I don’t invest in businesses or institutions; I invest in people, first Bennett and now Amy, the Hillel faculty and staff and the children.”
Epstein is a native of Malden, but spent much of his adult life in Marblehead. The lure of improved access to his six grandchildren, and other benefits of city living, led him to move to Brookline last year.
An entrepreneur and investor, Epstein began his career with Midas Muffler in 1965, eventually holding 30 locations in New England, the largest number of franchises within the region. A partner in the real estate firm Cres Development, Epstein was also a member of numerous corporate boards including Malden Trust Company (now Eastern Bank) and Portland Glass. As an Angel Investor, Epstein provided seed money to diverse new ventures including PR Restaurants (Panera Bread) and Planet Fitness. A graduate of Boston University, Epstein invests in and advises start-ups developed by student entrepreneurs at the Sloan School of Management at MIT.
Epstein says the school will receive the money over the next five years.